Lara Bernasconi

Do different feeding ecologies of dogs and wolves have an effect on persistence in problem solving?  


While investigating certain behaviours and thus the cognitive processes behind them, it is fundamental to consider the environments in which they have evolved, to understand the causes of their evolution.

This is the case in different behaviours due to different ecologies in two closely related species: the dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and the wolf (Canis lupus). Since the process of domestication of the dog started, the ecology of this species has changed, adapting to human ecology. Above all, food sources of the dog and feeding habits have changed: from carnivores to omnivores and from hunters to scavengers, due to the presence of human settlements.

During my thesis, I will thus investigate the presence of behavioural differences between dogs and wolves in problem solving tasks. The aim is to bring more evidence to the fact that different ecologies can lead to the development of different behaviours, which are better adapted to the living environment. I will, more precisely, investigate the level of motivation, persistence and behavioural flexibility in problem solving tasks in these two species.

I hypothesise, that there are some differences in performance in problem solving between dogs and wolves, such that dogs will be less persistent, less motivated and less innovative than wolves.

I will work at the Wolf Science Center of Ernstbrunn, Austria, where dogs and wolves were raised in captivity into different packs, under the same living conditions, so that their behaviours can be compared.

My thesis is supervised by Prof. Klaus Zuberbühler (University of Neuchâtel) and Dr. Friederike Range (one of the founders of the Wolf Science Senter).